One morning in 2002, my siblings and I were awoken by our mother who had decided to leave her abusive partner. We trailed mother under a pre–dawn moon across several communities, our bulging bags on our heads. The journey ended on the front steps of my grandmother’s house. It was my ninth home—an extended family dwelling comprised of uncles, aunts, cousins. Space and resources were limited. I was verbally and physically abused. I felt unwelcome, spoke out and was ordered to leave.
By age fourteen, I had faced extreme hardships, but the day my family forced me into the streets was one of unparalleled despair. I went in search of my tenth home. In Pell River, a neighbouring community, I received four rejections before I succeeded.
I often tell the story of how I went to Rusea’s High School during this period. My mother gave me JMD150 (US 1.50) per day. With JMD120 for my bus fare, I would have had to skip lunch. So each morning, I awoke at 4 a.m. and walked a mile to a taxi–stand where a driver picked up hotel workers travelling to work in Negril. The driver took me to Green Island. I then travelled, free of charge, on a bus carrying hotel workers from Negril, via Green Island, to Rusea’s, in Lucea. For 3 years I arrived at school at 6 a.m. I was often the first to arrive; almost 2 hours earlier than most students.
During these morning walks, I developed an interest in conflict resolution and human rights. At Rusea’s I attended therapy sessions but was unable to overcome my traumatic experiences. The more I matured the more memories re–appeared in complex ways. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family and witnessing daily violence in Jamaica, I became concerned about the impact of conflicts and trauma on others, particularly children.
My mentor Mike Broome moved to Pell River from Texas in ’99. Mike is a veteran of the Vietnam War. I spent many weekends at his feet, listening to stories about the graveyards that war erects in its survivors; about the military industrial complex; how the world may solve its most intractable conflicts, and what I could do to make a difference. Since then, my life journey has been a search for a deeper understanding of conflict, trauma and peacebuilding.
In 2010, my desire to study conflict grew considerably during my time at the Nkabom peacebuilding workshop in Rwanda. There, I saw first–hand the pernicious consequences of war, as well as the immense cost of indifference. I walked through vast tombs and touched the bones of Rwandans who were killed in the genocide. In the Bugesera reconciliation village, where perpetrators and survivors lived together, I saw the kinds of sacrifices that are needed to attain lasting peace.